Movie Project #1: First Blood [1982]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

First Blood [1982]

First Blood [1982]
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Writers: David Morrell (novel), Michael Kozoll (screenplay), William Sackheim (screenplay), Sylvester Stallone (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brian Dennehy, Richard Crenna
Running Time: 93 minutes

Before watching First Blood, I envisioned the character of John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) to be a shirtless, testosterone-fueled one man army armed with a machine gun and endless ammunition. This is the image that I had been fed through the pop culture canon over the years. I was a bit surprised, then, to find a mentally damaged Vietnam War veteran in place of the fearless commando I thought I knew.

First Blood begins with a shaggy-looking Rambo wandering the streets of a small town in the Pacific Northwest. The local sheriff, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy), notices him walking about and forcefully “offers” a ride out of his town. After being dropped off, Rambo simply starts walking back the way he came, drawing the ire of the sheriff. Teasle arrests him for vagrancy and drives him back for a night in jail. Once there, the rest of the police force joins in on giving Rambo a hard time for no good reason. A few officers attempt to give him some unwanted grooming; when a razor is pulled out, Rambo has a flashback to being tortured in ‘Nam, and he panics. He fights his way through the entire building, steals a dirtbike and heads deep into the mountains, now a wanted fugitive.

The police force, equal parts stubborn and embarrassed, refuse to back down, and soon tracking dogs, the State Patrol and the National Guard are all brought in. Little do they know that Rambo is a former member of an elite Special Forces unit, and the odds are actually against *them* to survive. Rambo’s mentor, Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna), arrives in an attempt to talk sense into both sides, but by then it’s all too late — this is war.

First Blood [1982]

The idea of Rambo taking on an entire town’s worth of enemies is a bit ridiculous, but it never feels as outlandish as other 80s action flicks. Stallone does a tremendous job of getting us to be on his side, even as he lays waste to a poor, innocent town. He even gets to show off his acting chops in a surprisingly touching final act. The closing scene with his Colonel is what really pulls everything together, and it provides some sort of meaning to what had until that point been a relatively run-of-the-mill action film.

First Blood still has its issues — the policemen are stereotypical villains with no depth, for one — but damn if it didn’t leave on a high note. Now if only that godawful “It’s a Long Road” song didn’t play over the end credits…